So far in the “Loneliness Today” series we’ve had eight installments looking at different facets of the phenomena of loneliness and social isolation in the Church and the world today:
- The youth encounter in Tokyo last fall
- Loneliness among the young
- Loneliness among the old
- Loneliness among the disabled
- Loneliness among the uncoupled
- Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Solitude and the “desert”
- More on loneliness and solitude
I’ve written these first eight installments of my series on “Loneliness Today” during—as the apocryphal Chinese curse goes—“interesting times.” At first I did not think I would have to comment on anything particularly civilization-shattering in this series. Then the COVID-19 pandemic started and I wrote an installment about social distancing. Now my country is undergoing civil unrest because of its history of troubled race relations and anti-black racism. I am not going to discuss this directly in the setting of “Loneliness Today” because I don’t feel qualified to do so. I am white and live in a mostly white area with a mostly white social circle, and Where Peter Is has several other contributors who are writing about systemic racism from a place of much great familiarity.
Instead I would like to conclude “Loneliness Today” with a general acknowledgment of the pain of living through such times. There is a famous line in The Lord of the Rings that “all we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” In the books the line appears when Gandalf initially tells Frodo about the Ring; in the movies it appears in the Mines of Moria sequence. It’s said by way of an antidote to anxiety or despair, not to loneliness—but anxiety has a way of making one feel closed in upon, and there is a horrible isolation to despair. I think there is some wisdom to this idea that one must act, in some fashion, in some capacity, in order to overcome isolation and helplessness. The act may or may not be successful, and it may come only in the form of “bearing witness”—I’ve been keeping a diary about how current events have been impacting my own life since late March. Even so, it is better to do something than nothing.
I hope that the previous installments of “Loneliness Today” have inspired readers to think on the extra difficulties faced, especially at a time like this, by people who are cut off from what sociologists call social capital. Much more could be said about this topic, and it may merit revisiting in the future. For the time being, I would like to conclude this series with this excerpt from Psalm 27, which speaks powerfully to what is it to be cut off from loved ones yet beloved of God:
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent,
he will set me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies round about me;
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
Thou hast said, “Seek ye my face.”
My heart says to thee,
“Thy face, Lord, do I seek.”
Hide not thy face from me.
Turn not thy servant away in anger,
thou who hast been my help.
Cast me not off, forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me up.
(Ps 27:5-10, RSV-CE)
Image: “Automat” by Edward Hopper